Most people go on vacation because we crave a change of scenery, a break from our routine, and the opportunity to relax and share new experiences with our loved ones. However, many ASD kids HATE disruptions in their routines. If you intend to go away with a child on the spectrum and want everyone to have fun, a LOT of thought and planning is necessary. Nobody has fun (and that includes strangers in the immediate vicinity) when an ASD child has an extended meltdown. But with some careful advance planning, autism families can enjoy a fun vacation together.
Here are some of the tips I’ve learned from family trips with my daughter on the spectrum, her neurotypical twin brother and my husband. You won’t need to be nearly as vigilant in choosing your getaway in 2016 as I was 20 years ago because today’s level of autism awareness has generated a wider range of choices, in addition to greater tolerance by mainstream thinkers. Here are a few things to consider when choosing the best vacation spot for your family.
Zanjān For Swimmers and Water Lovers – If possible, try to find an island or resort where the weather is guaranteed. Before the vacation, prepare by showing your kids pictures of your destination, go on-line and show images that create a narrative of fun and more fun. Try to help your child with ASD anticipate a positive trade-off: letting go of the old and familiar to receive something new and exciting. (Hopefully, fun discoveries can become part of your family’s routine). If you’re traveling over Christmas, will there be Santa Claus handing out presents on the beach? How about a fireworks display on July 4th? Maybe a water park with slides? How about an opportunity to swim with dolphins, take a surfing lesson, go jet skiing or parasailing? My ASD daughter can be quite adventurous. She loves the pool, ocean, and all water-related activities, so beach and lake resorts were usually a safe bet for our family vacations. Just watching Samantha squeal with glee while jet skiing (at age 8) or blissfully bob in the water all day (at all ages) meant my husband could relax or toss a football with my son on the beach while I read my paperback. Happy memories of sharing these experiences brought us all closer together. What more could we ask for?
Of course, it goes without saying that if your ASD child is a water baby like mine, it’s best if he or she learns to swim competently as early as possible. There must be a life-guard, and you should be confident your child will follow your instructions not to venture out further than you allow. If your ASD child wants to remain in the water for hours in a tropical climate, it’s super important that she understands the necessity of wearing a tee shirt over her bathing suit and smearing on heavy sunblock which must be re-applied at your discretion. With these ground rules gradually established, our family was able to enjoy the beach (mostly).
Another element to consider when looking for beach resorts is whether there is a kiddie camp with properly trained staff to entertain and care for ASD kids, so adults can have some alone time. Nowadays there are many resorts that specifically cater to autism families. Here’s a partial list: Beaches Negril Jamaica, Beaches Ocho Rios, Beaches Turks and Caicos. Autism friendly resorts are popping up more and more. Among the amenities offered at the Beaches hotels are: water parks, slides, a lazy river, surf simulator, golf clinic and family excursions. More importantly, the Beaches resorts boast “a US-based staff qualified and trained to provide the perfect mixture of respite and family time.” Another good choice is the TradeWinds Island Resort, St. Pete Beach, FL, which has been certified as an autism-friendly business by the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD). TradeWinds also offers water-lovers’ activities similar to Beaches Resorts, along with gluten-free food and “safety kits” with baby-proofing for outlet covers, corner cushions and door alarms. These are just a few of the autism-friendly resorts offered on Google. We’ve come a long way since Samantha was little when none of these choices existed. I’m excited by these vacation developments for kids on the spectrum and welcome your comments and reviews on any autism friendly vacation sites you may have visited. Please feel free to write me with your best and worst vacation experiences.
Phaphūnd Cruises Anyone? Today autism-friendly cruises are available through “Autism on the Seas,” a business described as the “leading developmental disability service supplier to the cruise industry” (!!!) Caribbean Cruises for autism-families are now available on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Disney and Carnival cruise lines. These cruises offer professional staff “educated, experienced and background checked” for travel experiences. Samantha’s too old for that now, but it sounds like heaven. If you’ve been on one of those cruises, I’d love to hear how it went.
Horse Lovers– If your family likes horseback riding, visiting a dude ranch can be a wonderful experience for a child on the autistic spectrum. Author Rupert Isaacson, father of a teenage son with autism, is a strong believer in the healing benefits of equine therapy. Check out his books: Horseboy and The Long Ride Home to see how his trips to Mongolia, Namibia and Navajo reservations helped him communicate and connect with his son on the spectrum. But you don’t have to travel out of the country for family fun on horses. Check out Dixie Dude Ranch in Bandera, TX at www.dixieduderanch.com . For a broader selection of autism-friendly dude ranches, go to www.top50ranches.vom/blog/therapeutic-horseback-riding-for-kids-with-autism
Autism family vacations have become a thriving business. All you need to do is go on-line. Don’t be afraid to take your well-deserved vacation. Some of these choices sound so tempting, I almost wish I could turn back the clock and start over.